It used to be that if you considered buying a petrol- electric hybrid car, then you were considering forking over some serious coin.
Things remained that way until a couple of years ago, when Honda New Zealand launched the second- generation Insight. This car went on to the market priced from the mid-$30,000s, which made it affordable to a lot more people - to the
TOYOTA PRIUS C S-TECH
POWER PLANT: 1.5-litre Atkinson Cycle in-line four- cylinder petrol engine, 54 kW at 4800 rpm, 111 Nm at 4000 rpm, combined with a 19.3 kW Hybrid Synergy Drive electric motor for a combined output of 74 kW.
RUNNING GEAR: Front-wheel drive. Continuously variable automatic transmission. MacPherson strut front suspension, torsion beam setup at the rear. Full suite of handling aids including stability and traction control, and hill-start assist control.
HOW BIG: Length 3995mm, width 1695mm, height 1450mm, wheelbase 2550mm.
HOW MUCH: $34,990.
WHAT'S GOOD: Good-looking, very economical little hatchback. Ride and handles well.
WHAT'S NOT: I'd get a little sick of the eco-devices. I found the s-Tech lacked a good lock.
OUR VERDICT: I'm picking this Prius will be a strong seller in New Zealand, partly because of its looks, partly because of its price, and partly because we finally have an affordable hybrid.
It sort of worked. The downside with Insight is that it continued to look quite futuristic, which meant that people probably still considered it to be a hybrid. But I think the car did move hybrid technology a considerable way along the path towards motoring normality.
Now Toyota has taken things even further with introduction of a new smaller version of the well- known Prius hybrid. It's called Prius C, and it has gone on to the market with prices ranging from $30,990 for a steel-wheeled base model through to $34,990 for a fairly loaded s-Tech version.
Those prices are way down on the rest of the hybrid fare currently available. For instance, the larger Prius retails from $49,690 and the Toyota Camry hybrid costs from $50,290, while the Honda Insight's pricing is from $35,600, the CR-Z sportscar retails from $44,900, and the just- released new-generation Civic hybrid is $43,500.
That's attractive pricing for this new Toyota. Perhaps even more significant is that the Prius C looks quite normal. It's a spunky- looking five-door hatch of a size that fits it in between the Yaris and the Corolla. It is not until you climb inside the car that it becomes more obvious that this is a hybrid - and even then things aren't so bad.
But despite those more conventional looks, the Prius C does boast all the best things about hybrid technology, which are low fuel consumption and reduced exhaust emissions.
Official figures show it consumes an average of just 3.9 litres of 91 octane petrol every 100 kilometres. That's 73 miles per gallon for you more veteran motorists, many of whom are likely to buy this car. And that's excellent economy for a small hatch that drives very well.
I suggest that, with practice, a Prius C owner could do better than that, too. There's certainly plenty of on-board stuff there to encourage economical driving.
It includes an 'Eco Drive' monitor which displays the status of the car's hybrid system and other information including average running speed, driving time, range, and outside temperature.
That's fairly normal these days, but what is different with this monitor is that it incorporate an 'Eco Score' record which gives the driver a score out of 100 for economical driving, and an 'Eco Savings' record which allows the driver to input the current petrol price and compare the estimated cost of each trip against a comparison vehicle.
The 'Eco Savings' function also allows the vehicle owner to track fuel usage for the current month and compare it against the previous three months.
And at the end of each trip, the car's multi information display summarises the distance travelled, time taken, fuel consumed, and even the cost of the fuel used.
Is that all a bit silly? I suppose it is, but I discovered that you do end up using it. It's debatable whether or not a Prius C owners would use all that is available, but I guarantee it would be a constant encouragement to drive carefully and economically.
The Prius C combines a 1.5-litre Atkinson Cycle petrol engine with Toyota's well-known Hybrid Synergy Drive system for a combined power output of 74 kilowatts. None of the Toyota technical data tells anything about what sort of performance this hybrid system gives the Prius C, but after spending a week behind the wheel an s-Tech version I know that it's not particularly quick off the mark.
But it's not slow either; and when up and running, it is pleasant and easy to drive. It shares its platform with the Yaris hatch, and Toyota says the suspension has been specially calibrated for a smooth ride.
The car is also 100mm longer than a Yaris, which gives it reasonable interior room front and rear. The hybrid system's battery, auxiliary battery and fuel tank are all located under the rear seat, which has allowed the designers to provide a reasonable (for a hybrid) cargo capacity of 305 litres with all seats in use. The rear seats split and fold 60/40.
All versions of the Prius C boast a full safety package that includes vehicle stability control, traction control, driver and passenger front, side, driver's knee and front/rear curtain shield airbags, and hill-start assist control. As a result, the car is expected to achieve five stars when it undergoes the ANCAP crash testing later this year.
Standard features in all models include cruise control, 'smart' entry and start, climate control air conditioning, front fog lights, the multi-information display, and full connectivity.
The s-Tech model adds 16-inch alloys, a leather steering wheel, rear privacy glass, a larger rear spoiler, LED low-beam headlights with self-cleaning, soft-feel synthetic leather covering on the seats, and even voice recognition for the audio.
Frankly that's a very high level of specification for such an affordable hybrid; and with that as background, it's little wonder that the car is now in such demand that Toyota New Zealand can't keep up.
Let's hope the company can keep the momentum going and import new supplies quick-fast.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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